Whether you're trying to be pro at Photoshop, or step up your tennis game, or master a dueling banjo song, you're probably dutifully following the age-old advice that practice makes perfect.
However, contrary to popular belief, doing the same thing over and over again might not be the most efficient way to learn foreign concepts.
Traditionally, we're taught using the "blocking" strategy. This instructs us to go over a single idea again and again (and again) until we've mastered it, before proceeding to the next concept. But several new neurological studies show that an up and coming learning method called "interleaving" improves our ability to retain and perform new skills over any traditional means by leaps and bounds.
What interleaving does is space out learning over a longer period of time, and it randomize the information we encounter when learning a new skill. So, for example, instead of learning one banjo chord at a time until you perfect it, you train in several at once and in shorter bursts.
Below are a some practical ways you can use interleaving to train your brain to pick up new skills quickly and effectively starting today:
Practice multiple parallel skills at once
Whether you're trying to improve your motor skills or cognitive learning abilities, the key to transforming how your brain processes new information is to break out of the habit of learning one facet of a skill at a time. The advantage of this method is that your brain doesn't get comfortable or store information in your short-term memory. Instead, interleaving causes your brain to intensely focus and problem solve every step of the way, resulting in information getting stored in your long-term memory instead.
For example, one study gave a collegiate baseball team extra batting practice and broke them up into three groups: a control group, a blocked group, and a random group. The blocked group faced a variety of pitches in a set order, and the other group encountered pitches randomly. After six weeks, researchers found that the random group improved 56.7%, while the blocked group only improved 24.8%. That's a massive difference! And similar results have been replicated in other sports and classroom learning studies.
Interleaving doesn't cut any corners, so your brain is always on guard. Think of the difference between blocking and interleaving like a boxer who practices one move over and over again versus a boxer who practices by sparring in the ring. In the ring, you have to be ready for anything. It makes you faster, sharper, and more versatile.
Plan your lessons in advance
Since randomization and spacing out lessons are crucial to the interleaving process, try planning when and what you want to cover in a lesson in advance. As block learning is such a linear technique, we might not normally think to do this, but a little pre-planning will make adopting a new skill set go by much faster.
Think of it like pre-planning a workout. If you go to the gym without having a plan in mind, you can lose time and momentum by trying to decide what to do next. But if you know you want to work on legs that day, you can create a plan that will help you achieve that goal without missing a beat. When it comes to interleaving, this will keep you from getting frazzled with the new learning process.
Go back to basics
When we progress with a new skill, it's easy to forget to practice older material. But going back over the basics is an integral part of the interlearning process. Doing so strengthens our brains and reinforces our long-term memory of a skill. It also has the added benefit of spacing out learning and giving our minds a break from taking on a new concept right away. This will result in higher and faster retention overall. Even pros like University of Georgia's football coach, Vince Dooley, subscribe to this methodology when it comes to training.
Keep track of your progress
If you find interleaving to not be as immediately gratifying as the blocking technique is, don't get discouraged, you're not alone. In one study, "80% of students claimed that the block style helped them learn better, despite testing better when using the an interleaved method."
In some ways, interleaving feels counterintuitive because the wide majority of us were taught to get comfortable with learning one concept at a time through school. But sticking with it and monitoring your results in a measurable way is the best way to stay motivated and see that the proof is in the proverbial pudding.
Break out of your comfort zone
Often, we're gravitated towards repeated tasks that we already have a basic grasp of and exist in our comfort zones. The whole process of interleaving feels pretty uncomfortable at first, especially when you're trying skills from new angles and failing a lot.
When you realize that practice does not mean perfection, and that every step new towards finding a skill is a step forward (even if it seems like a step backwards), you'll have the winning attitude to use interleaving to your advantage.
By following these steps, you'll be able to use interleaving to your advantage and learn any skill at lightning speed like a champ.